Backcountry Skiing in the High Country
Backcountry skiers rely on Mother Nature - not snow guns - for excellent skiing conditions, and she recently showered the High Country with a white Christmas.
"Unfortunately, the weather dictates what we can do when we cross country ski," Laura Lopp, a local skier, said. "It depends a lot on natural snow. Fortunately, the last two years we've had more opportunities to cross country ski than in the past."
Lopp has been an alpine skier for 30 years. After a knee injury and a visit to Norway three years ago, she taught herself how to cross country ski.
"It's easier to learn (than alpine skiing)," Lopp said. "It's accessible to everyone (with) a set of skis, and you don't have to buy a lift ticket. You can go anywhere. It's pretty amazing. If the weather cooperated with us, I would hang up my alpine skis."
These days, cross country skiing isn't as popular as other snow sports, such as alpine skiing and snowboarding. In 1924, cross country skiing became one of the first Winter Olympic sports long before Sherman Poppen even thought of inventing the snowboard, which he coined the Snurfer.
In the High Country, a small percentage of snow sport enthusiasts cross country ski.
"Around here, it's a drop in the bucket," said Jeff Kattner, general manager of First Tracks, a Boone ski shop. "Very few people cross country ski compared to downhill, when you consider we sell 20 pairs of cross country skis versus 100 plus downhill skis a year."
Lopp and Kattner have both wondered about a local a cross country ski club, mentioning other outdoor clubs in the High Country.
"There has been a lot of enthusiasm recently," Lopp said. "I know there is a large community who cross country ski, you see them (out on the trails), and you see their tracks. It would be interesting to see a cross country club."
The High Country offers plenty of cross country and backcountry areas with various challenges. Boone's Greenway Trail offers an easy, flat terrain for a cross country escape in town.
"Last year, because we had so much snow, not a day went by that me and my wife didn't see two or three other people hitting the Greenway Trail," Kattner said. "That was a nice surprise."
The Blue Ridge Parkway offers several options. Moses Cone Memorial Park has more than 25 miles of road with carriage trails. Price Park, Trout Lake and Linville Falls all offer a backcountry experience along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"During the winter months, you can pretty much go anywhere that the parkway is closed and cross country ski," Kattner said.
Beech Mountain has well maintained, skiable trails on some of the old logging roads.
HikeBeechMountain.com suggests these trails in this order: Westerly Hills Area, Wild Iris Loop, Red Fox/Arrowood and Smoketree trails.
A short drive away from Boone is Roan Mountain, which has trails for novices and experts. In the '80s, WXII-TV in the Piedmont reported that Roan Mountain State Park Cross Country Ski Center was "the best kept secret below the Mason-Dixon line."
To have a backcountry experience, a skier doesn't need much snow, certainly not as much as we received over the holidays.
"If we get a couple inches of snow and no wind, we will have good conditions," Kattner said.
Every backcountry adventure is unique. The weather and snowfall on any given day changes from before, and each trail offers a different environment from the next. Cross country skiers don't have to color in between the lines. Anywhere there is snow, backcountry skiers create their own paths kicking and gliding their way through nature.
"I like it because it is so peaceful," Kattner said. "You can go to these slopes in this area and it is the same thing everyday, the exact same ride up the chairlift. With cross country skiing, I can go anywhere there is snow. It is peaceful, and it is a new adventure every time."
For more information on trail updates and snow reports, click to http://www.HikeBeechMountain.com and http://www.ExploreBooneArea.com.